- Below Deck -A Real Yachtie’s Take On ‘Below Deck,’ From Avery, The Deckhand That Almost Was
When Avery Russell first received an Instagram message about appearing on Below Deck, he thought it was a joke. The yachtie — a person who makes their living working on yachts — was familiar with the Bravo series, but before he appeared on the premiere episode of Season 8, he’d never purposefully sat down to watch the show. He’d seen it with friends, but his peers and coworkers in the industry didn’t exactly have a high opinion of the reality TV program.
The show may be a hit with fans, but it has a bit of a different reputation among yachting professionals. When you consider that the Venn Diagram of people who are ready to take on the long hours of days or even weeks at sea with the people who want to be on a reality TV show, you can imagine why. But when the behind-the-scenes team for the series reached out and asked him to audition, he figured he’d give it a chance.
“A lot of people in my industry kind of made fun of [the show]. ...‘Oh, you’ll never find a job again. … That’s what people have told me,” he admits in a conversation with The Dipp. “I'd seen the show before, but I'd never actually taken it seriously or anything like that.” Nonetheless, he figured he’d at least see where the process went — and somehow things ended up coming together. “I kind of joked around in all my interviews, and sure as hell, I was one of the first picks they picked,” he says. “They wanted me on there. … I was kind of taken aback because I was like, ‘Oh my god, you want me to be on your show? Are you sure?’”
Despite the show’s less-than-stellar reputation in his industry, he decided to give it a shot. If for no other reason, he figured he could at least help set an example for what it really looks like to be a serious yachtie. “A lot of people that are in the industry, especially people that have been in the industry, think [Below Deck has] honestly ruined our industry,” he explains. “You get a lot of people that watch the show and think that anybody can just come and join the yachting industry and be like, ‘Oh, I just want to travel the world,’ [and] think it's a vacation the whole time. ... But it's not like that at all. It's a serious industry of people with careers that want this lifestyle.”
Making a Point
Avery wanted to prove that real yachties aren’t all free-wheeling partiers — and that set him up for some serious confrontation when he joined Lee Rosbach’s crew. Though the captain is a serious professional, and bosun Eddie Lucas also has years of experience under his belt, his other coworkers included Shane, a total newbie, and James, who is exactly the sort of self-proclaimed slacker that Avery was wary of.
“James did have a little bit of experience, but he wasn't there for, from what I could tell, to work his ass off,” he says. “[He] said he doesn't consider yachting much of a career. … It's a great honor and a privilege for a lot of young people who want to come join the industry, travel the world and work their ass off to make a bunch of money for a little bit. But if you don't want to excel, obviously, slacker for you, especially if you don't take it seriously enough.”
However, he was pleasantly surprised by both deckhands. While James wasn’t exactly the kind of worker who would take initiative and start getting ahead on his to-do list, he was willing to do whatever task Eddie or Avery assigned him, and Shane was eager to learn. As for the (many) mistakes he’s already made, Avery thinks Eddie might bear some of that responsibility, but he also chalks it up to the fact that their first charter started less than 24 hours after they all walked on board.
“Oh, that is not a normal thing,” he explains. “I think mostly they do that because of the show. When I first got on the boat and we started washdown, they told me it was 22 hours until our next charter, and I was like, ‘Holy shit. You’re kidding, right?’” He did his best to help everyone get up to speed — and the fact that he and Eddie clicked right away did some heavy lifting — but ultimately it was clear from the first episode that the crew was still playing catch up even once they’d set sail.
The first three episodes were fraught with meltdowns from the deckhands, interior crew, and charter guests alike. They totaled over 33 freakouts, and more than a few of those were inspired by the fact that they simply didn’t have enough employees to cover all the different jobs that needed to be done. Part of that is due to the relative inexperience of some of the workers and part of that was due to the fact that Avery had to leave before the first episode was even finished.
On the series, fans saw him exchanging text messages with his family before he made the decision that he needed to head home. While he hated leaving his crew in the lurch, he knew he had to prioritize being there with his grandmother, who had fallen ill with what doctors first thought was just the flu. Avery’s explanation about her illness (and the fact that the first charter set sail in mid-February, just a few weeks before the United States first went into lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic) had viewers at home frantically googling if she had contracted COVID, but he says that they simply don’t know.
“It was so early on, and she had problems with pneumonia constantly,” he tells The Dipp. “It’s a definite possibility that she [contracted it].” But that was before the United States had even started tracking the virus and confirmed cases. “We just didn't catch what it was. We didn't have the technology or anything to even test it.”
But before he even realize that his grandmother’s illness might be linked to a global pandemic, he knew he wanted to be with her for her final few days. “When I left, and I was — I was devastated. I knew my team needed me, like, really, really bad,” he says. “[But] my grandfather died a year prior to that. And I didn't get to be there for [him] because I chose to stay on a boat. And I regretted it ever since. … I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
He opened up on the show about his rocky relationship with his family, but he was grateful to be able to see his grandmother before she passed, just a few days after he left the show. “I think for me, I didn't have the best childhood, you know, so I didn't have a lot to say to [my relatives]. But I think it was just more of the fact that I actually got to be there. And you know, just to be there with people that I care about, and the people that love me, and that people that I love, I think meant more to me than you know, even saying anything in general.”
Despite the setback, he got back to yachting almost immediately, and he’s been busy out on boats ever since. He’s been freelancing over the past few months, and he says jobs have been “rolling in like crazy.” While you might think traveling might be a little risky with everything going on in the world, he says he often feels safer out on the water with all the precautions his crews and guests take rather than at home in the United States. “[Going to] the Bahamas requires a test 10 days prior,” he explains. The relative isolation of a boat — and the lower populations in the areas he’s docking — mean that he might be in a better position to stay healthy than most.
He’s also open to the idea of returning to the show one day in the future. He’s still in touch with the series’ producers, but he doesn’t know yet if there’s a chance he’ll be invited to join any future seasons. In the meantime, he’s enjoying watching this one, and he’s hopeful that his former crew mates will be able to get their acts together.
He was impressed by what he saw of Francesca when they met, and he thought Izzy was a great addition to the deckhand crew with her experience on sailboats. He thinks Shane has a good heart, and he would be happy to work besides (and party with) James any day. As for Elizabeth, he also thought she seemed awesome, and the two even still keep in touch today. “She’s still kicking ass and taking names,” he says. “We talk here and there.”
While there’s always bound to be drama with so many people living in close quarters, the long hours spent on deck, and camera crews capturing every moment, he thinks they’ve got a good team on their hands, and he can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.